Along with bleeding gums, forced marriage and a winter holiday in Scunthorpe, death is not everyone’s cup of tea.
It is probably safe to suggest that most of us will avoid it if we possibly can.
Not everyone of course. There are a few who pray for it daily. They will be thinking it brings them closer to their chosen ‘Omniscient Invisible Friend’ who will bestow upon them protection from lakes of fire and sulphur, access to the intact hymens of 77 young girls or a ‘Zionist Chosen Land’ free from the requirements of International Law. They usually combine this wish with hatred of kaffirs*, apostates and the use of high calibre bullets. This diverse group of the followers of the three Abrahamic faiths, also include those who consider dancing to be the work of the devil, the ‘side-growth of your heads’ and the ‘edges of your beard’ to be sacrosanct, and would wince at sherry sipping.
Other groups are also found of death.
Just not for themselves.
Regardless of the promise of a life hereafter and the attentions of virgins, angels and the gift of a harp and cloud to sit upon, they’d rather pass. They are fond of it for other people though. The usual targets for special attention by these lovers of Thanatos are anybody not quite like them. Non white people, women and gays are favoured classes of people they’d love to facilitate a transition into oblivion. If this process is accompanied by blood, guts and a prime time spot on the Daily News, then even better.
For the rest of us however, death is as welcome a visitor as the coronavirus in your pasty.
And so it is that I find myself considering oblivion and its relative likelihood given the world is now in the grip of a pandemic. “To philosophise is to learn how to die” wrote Michel de Montaigne in the 16th century. He wrote that at a time when infants were lucky to get beyond their first birthdays and public health policies were no more than sitting in church and praying. This latter was as successful in healing one’s festering sores as dipping one’s testicles in warm wax was in warding off the pox. Both feel good, but are totally useless. The only beneficiaries were priests and wax sellers, and the odd goat bothering pervert in Kidderminster who had a penchant for testicle waxing regardless of ailments.
Given the expertise and leadership of the likes of Trump and Johnson, prayer is looking like a good option right now. I have of late never been one fond of mystical solutions to practical questions. I prefer an X Ray to Crystals and an Ambulance to rescue remedy, however with clowns in charge of the circus perhaps reacquainting oneself with the rigours of hand clasping and knee bending on the cold stony floor of one’s local church might seem more attractive. The four horses of the apocalypse – War, Famine, Pestilence and Death – have been joined by a new one ‘Fuckwittery’. He rides a few feet in front of the other 4, clearing the way and making their paths easier.
In the fact of the increasing certainty of one’s impending mortality, I can quite see the attractiveness of being more stoical and philosophical about matters.
Reading Epicurus, Socrates and Montaigne might bring some comfort as your ring-piece, along with other less important parts of one’s anatomy, evaporates within the fiery furnace of a nuclear explosion. Or, if your lungs begin to resemble the swampy marshes of Mordor, liquifying with each rasping intake of breath as the ‘old man’s friend‘ grips his bony fingers around each putrefying and pus filled collapsing lung, you might find comfort in the books of the Bible. Revelation perhaps?
I am not so much courting death as sending out non verbal hints. A nod and a wink perhaps, suggestive that should Death wish to make advances, then it might not be beyond possibility that a rebuff would not be forthcoming. I am unlike Marvell’s ‘coy mistress’ to whom he whispers:
“But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.”
Marvell wished to have a hundred years to ‘praise’ her eyes, and two hundred to ‘adore each breast’ and thirty thousand ‘to the rest‘. Dirty Bugger. Her coyness was distancing his lustful advances. But Death? No, Death will not be so coy. Death will kick the bloody door down regardless of our preparedness.
I am ready. Many will not be.
‘oh death where is thy sting, grave where is thy victory?’ So wrote Paul to the Corinthians. Well, if we tweak the nipples of death, and poke the anus of mortality with the hot blade of humour, we might have the (very) last laugh.
*other categories are available including infidel, jew or sheep worrier.